By day, Bangkok's largest slum broils under a scorching sun.
Schoolchildren in crisp uniforms scuttle past sidewalk food vendors.
But at night, say local activists, the dockside lanes of Khlong Toey
belong to peddlers of methamphetamine pills, known to Thais as ya
ba, or crazy medicine.
Wanlop Hirikul, a community leader and radio broadcaster, has
been here before. Until 2003, his district was overrun with dealers
hawking meth pills. Then came a violent but popular antidrug
campaign led by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that
disrupted trafficking networks and forced tens of thousands of
addicts into rehabilitation camps.
Today, the situation is reversing. "It's getting worse. The drugs
are coming back to our community ... where there used to be one
dealer on the street, now there are three," Mr. Wanlop says.
Thai authorities are facing a spike in meth sales in poor
communities. Counternarcotics officials warn that political
instability is emboldening illegal drug manufacturers in Burma
(Myanmar) who smuggle millions of pills into Thailand and across
Southeast Asia, including growing markets in Cambodia and Laos.
The apparent failure of the military junta, which ousted Thaksin
in 2006, to curb drug trafficking has proved a political gift to
opponents. Officials in the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP)
won the largest number of seats in Dec. 23 parliamentary elections,
the first since the coup, after vowing to revive the "war on drugs."
That pledge pleases community leaders who want a firmer hand, but
alarms human rights groups who monitored the 2003 crackdown, when
more than 2,500 people died in extrajudicial killings. Thaksin has
repeatedly blamed the slayings on internecine gang violence.
PPP deputy leader Chalerm Yubamrung last month pledged to ramp up
suppression and reduce demand through treatment. Asked about 2003,
Mr. Chalerm, a former interior minister, said it was a
"misunderstanding" that the authorities were responsible. "There
won't be any victimization of innocent people. Those who were
affected were not the real innocents," he told the Bangkok Post.
But a junta-appointed panel recently concluded that more than
half of those slain had no links to the drug trade. The panel blamed
a government "shoot-to-kill" policy that used flawed police
blacklists of suspected traffickers. It recommended compensation to
But the panel has no judicial powers and its findings have been
overshadowed by the jockeying to form a new government. …